Monday, October 3, 2011

When children are too scared to go to school, something is terribly wrong

By Jess Hunter-Bowman
Associate Director, Witness for Peace


Our immigration system is broken. There is no denying it now.

When states like Alabama and Arizona are left to set the agenda for immigration policy, the results are laws that turn police officers into de facto immigration officials and laws that turn public schools into places of fear.

After Alabama’s harsh immigration law was upheld by courts last week, the impact was felt immediately.

One of the law’s most controversial aspects requires public schools in the state to verify and record the immigration status of new students. This has sent shockwaves through the public school system, leaving students, parents and administrators reeling.

Take Foley Elementary School, for example.

According to The Birmingham News
, the day after the immigration law was upheld by the courts, 19 of Foley Elementary’s Latino students withdrew from school. Another 39 were absent. As for the other 165 Latino students that showed up for school, Foley’s principal Bill Lawrence says most of them arrived in tears.

"It’s been a challenging day, an emotional day. My children have been in tears today. They’re afraid," Lawrence said. "We have been in crisis-management mode."

In Montgomery, the state capital, 231 Hispanic children were absent from school the first day the law went into effect.

Foley’s principal said he expected many Latino students and their families would be leaving the state this weekend. Some of them are U.S. citizens, but still feared staying in the state because their parents are undocumented.

This is what we’ve come to. Despite Supreme Court rulings indicating that all children must be allowed access to public school independent of immigration status, Alabama’s lawmakers have found a way to ensure Latinos feel they cannot send their children to school.

And, apparently, a mass exodus of Latinos from the state is underway.

There has never been a more urgent time for us to stand up for immigrant rights. Let’s raise our voices, joining with the churches, immigrant rights advocates and civil rights activists, to call for justice! Justice in Alabama. Justice in Arizona. Justice across the United States!

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